Sharon Bloom
Natalia Alfutova represents a new generation of Russian media artists who are devoted to the passionate exploration of human beings' existence and self-identification in the ever-changing world of digital technology, big data, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence.
Natalia's educational background is unique in its richness: she started with a Master degree in mathematics from Moscow State University, and later added top-notch education in liberal arts: graduated from High Courses for Scriptwriters and Film Directors (HCSF) and then from Moscow School of photography and multimedia named after A. Rodchenko (MDF School).
This blend of deep expertise in natural sciences and creative arts results in a distinctive style of Natalia's artwork. She works with interactive installations where the output of complex algorithms and artificial neural networks is mixed up with the spontaneous behavior of the audience and live performance acts.
We decided to get acquainted with the work of Natalia and asked her a few questions:
What is digital art for you?
— For me, as a digital artist the most important thing in this genre is an intersection between digital world and real world, a superposition of real and virtual. Therefore, I would consider my art ambigenous rather than simply digital. This combination of opposites is, for me, what constitutes the art of 21st century. The art cannot be separated from the cultural period it has been created within, and our time is undoubtably characterized by the difficult, yet exiting balance between the real world and a simulacrum.
How was your creative path formed and what influenced it?
— Thinking about things that formed my artistic path, it might be important to mention that I come from a family of mathematicians. As a child with such background, I always thought work is that thing when you spend hours sitting surrounded by books and notebooks. Later, I was excited to find out that work can be whatever you want it to be - it can involve communication, people, beauty, and anything you take interest in. It happened when I was studying in the University, on the Math Faculty, that I had this revelation moment. I was visiting friends in Moscow Cinematographic University and saw the students walking around the hall, wearing 18th century scenic costumes and declaiming poetry. It felt like a mode of life that might be close to me.
— What is the strongest creative experience/experiment you've had?
— In 2019 I was doing a multimedia performance Faced2Faced with my partner Yaroslav Kravtsov. In this performance there was a certain moment when the heads of digital avatars virtually grew on the hands of the participants. Within the storyline of a performance this was a moment of dedication into a cult. And at some point, over a hundred participants managed to grow those avatars and they began singing. At first those voices were hitchy and creepy, but then they fused into a beautiful chorus that felt truly magical and sacral. This was not the first time we showed this performance, but the singing has never reached this level of intensity and integrity. I was so joyed that I began smiling even though I was performing on the stage, as the one initiating people into a cult, and had to keep serious and mysterious face. I just couldn't stop smiling. This was an experience I deeply value and remember.
— Where can we find your work and get to know your work?
— Two of my works are currently exhibited in the Multimedia Art Museum in Moscow. Those are an "Artcore" video game and a "Self-charming Robo-Snake" installation.
I also have been developing an exhibition of my works in Venice, but unfortunately due to current events if was cancelled.
In the upcoming future I think my work will be mostly presented on NFT platforms.
— What are your further creative plans?
— I've always been interested in creating video art, and recently came up with the idea of shooting my works in this genre in the digital environment. At first, I was thinking only about building a virtual scenery for this purpose, but as the process evolved, I figured that not only the creation of a scenery can deepen those artworks, bur also action and digital avatars. Thus, these environments unraveled into a full-scale video game I am currently developing, and the mission became even more exiting.
— How do you get ready for work?
— As most of us do, when setting my mind on work and getting back into the resourceful mode, I find communication and real-life interaction with people very helpful. I also like a simple walk to clear my mind. This trick never gets old.
What do you think viewers bring back, interact with your work?
— In 2018 I was doing an installation called «RABBIT HEART». It was an interactive platform inhabited by "living" uncontrollable avatars. Those avatars were based on the information from social networks of the participants. Building upon the analysis of the profile information of the user, the algorithm simulated a full-course social life of the user's rabbit-avatar. Those little rabbits could interact with each other, danse, fight, form various kinds of partnership, have sex- all this mirroring real online lives of the users.

During the showcase of this installation, I had a chance to observe how people react to my artworks. I was surprised to see that they were so involved into the process that some of them were spending hours watching their rabbit- avatars. I especially memorized one man. He was so anxious about his rabbit avatar actions that the morning after the event he showed up in the gallery and asked to delete his avatar. He said that he couldn't sleep or be calm when he knows that somewhere in the world there is an unsupervised part of him.

It all goes back to the popular idea of digital immortality – an individual's digital copy is able to live independently without it's prototype. Imagine every person has such a copy and it lives and builds relationships in the virtual world in parallel with us. If in the past, in order to avoid routine job, we've been inventing machines which could hummer nails, then nowadays it's the best time to charge them with endless correspondence and keeping relationships in social networks. For instance, for me all this is really necessary routine. And what is interesting here: if we robotize relationships via simulation, will we be glad to entrust the choice of person to love to the machine?
— Natalia Alfutova
"RABBIT HEART" is an interactive platform inhabited by "living" avatars. Avatars are based on the information from social networks. Its members are users who have agreed to give their personal data to the project. The algorithm analyzes the profile information of the user (most commonly used words, phrases, geotags, and photos), as well as neural networks of different orders. As a result, it constructs an animated avatar in the form of an anthropomorphic rabbit. On the one hand, it resembles a popular social networks photo filter, on the other hand it refers to the famous character of the "looking-glass" by L. Carroll.

— Why is art necessary for modern society?
— After the invention of photography an important shift from simple visual art towards conceptual art happened. The art became a form of self-reflection for the society. Considering everything that happens nowadays around us, I think, unfortunately, the need for self-reflection is higher than ever.
Natalia's works were presented at the 6th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, in several spaces at the 58th Venice Biennale of Contemporary Art, at 8th Cairo Video Festival, at Garage Museum of Contemporary Art (Moscow), at Magasins généraux de Pantin (Paris), at KRINZINGER PROJEKTE (Vienna), in at SDV Arts&Science foundation, New York; at The Multimedia Art Museum, at The National Center for Contemporary Art (NCCA), and in numerous museums and art galleries.